Merge's Blog

What can goldfish teach us about creating a positive working environment?

positive working environmentCreating a positive working environment is key if you want your department or organization to reach new heights and accomplishments.  And trust in the workplace is a critical component.  But a positive working environment comes from something much more basic and fundamental.  Let me explain.

Did you know that goldfish only grow to the size of their enclosure?

Which is ironic, given that goldfish are actually indeterminate growers, which means that unlike humans, they have the ability to grow until they die.  In fact, depending on the breed, goldfish can grow to a maximum of 4 to18 inches!  But most of them don’t.  They don’t because they are restricted, both by tank size, and the poor quality of their water.  Small aquariums and fishbowls usually have little or no filtration, and often infrequent water changes; as a result, the water quality is typically poor, and the goldfish’s growth is stunted.  So they remain, underdeveloped and constricted, held back from reaching their full potential.

The leader sets the tone

Which takes me to the leader’s role in the workplace.  A good leader not only creates a broad ecosystem for employees, but also ensures a favourable positive working environment.  That means the workplace needs to be, at least metaphorically speaking, a sprawling area in which people have the freedom to think and act without negative repercussions, coupled with frequent deliberate infusions of fresh creativity, and the opportunity to “filter” ideas and planned actions past other colleagues.

Translated into reality, that means a positive working atmosphere, characterized by an open-minded willingness to challenge the status quo, listen to alternative viewpoints, and go down paths less-traveled.  And all of this has to come from the top.  It is the leader who sets the tone for how people work and interact with one another.  It is the leader who has to be a role model for how others are expected to behave and act.

Not many leaders will disagree with my depiction above.  Yet, why is it that so many workplaces resemble the small goldfish bowl rather than a giant well-filtered aquarium?  What makes so many managers create working environments that hold employees (and organizations) back from achieving great things?  Would love to hear your thoughts as to why this happens.  Please add your comments below.


  • Mostly, I believe that many managers are caught up in a web of micromanaging Leaders that don’t really have a working knowledge of how the workforce does their jobs. Many American businesses are led by leaders so far removed from the workforce that they do not understand the work being done that they can not be empathic to the demands they put on the workforce. In many organizations with a large number of leaders, often have many of them who appear to be disinterested in the concerns of the workforce and or they have no power to change anything that may streamline their jobs and make them less difficult. I also notice that supervision of poor performers , often allows them to continue to perform at a lower rate because corrections are rare. In addition to that, those who work harder and smarter are often rewarded with more work because the leaders see that the poor performer often can not complete jobs in a timely manner or finish them with lots of errors. This then allows for the poor performer to work with less demands often at the same rate as the ones working harder all the time since they are given a bigger workload. Instead of correction and educating the poor performer they place bigger and more important projects on the high performer without any reward.

    • Sadly Shawn, I cannot disagree with you. It is indeed very true that some so-called leaders allow poor performance from certain team members to continue, leaving other stronger staff to not only carry the load, but take on much more than is reasonable. The silver lining is that not all workplaces are like this. I have had the privilege of working with exceptional leaders in my training and one-on-one mentoring practice, who recognize that not dealing with their problem employees is actually a huge demotivator to their strong performers. And so they take action, insisting on clear expectations and accountability from their people. It is possible, but unfortunately, not (yet) in the majority!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.